Thursday, 3 June 2021

Questions (116)

Gino Kenny


116. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice if she will examine calls for an independent public inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied); if she will examine legal opinions on the way this may operate in parallel with any Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30219/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Justice)

My question refers to the ongoing GSOC investigation into the death of George Nkencho. Will the Minister examine the possibility of a public inquiry into his death?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. First, I extend my deepest sympathies to all those impacted by the tragic events in Hartstown last December, and in particular to the family of George Nkencho. As is the case in every incident involving the Garda that results in the death of a person, the shooting is being fully and independently investigated by GSOC, which is chaired by a High Court judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring. GSOC has confirmed that it has begun a criminal investigation under section 98 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. It is open to GSOC to make wider systemic recommendations on issues it investigates and it is free to do so in this instance. As GSOC is statutorily independent in its operation and administration, it would not be appropriate for me as Minister to comment on or interfere in what is an ongoing independent investigation with full powers. However, I am confident that GSOC is treating this matter with the utmost priority and with the gravity it deserves. It is important for the family and all those involved in this tragedy that the investigation is done thoroughly, but as speedily as possible in the circumstances. As the Deputy will be aware, the then Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, met with the Nkencho family in April to hear from them directly. She assured them of GSOC's independence and that it is the most appropriate body to complete a full and impartial investigation into all of the circumstances relating to the death of Mr. Nkencho. I hope the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot discuss this matter in detail, given the ongoing investigation.

I thank the Minister for her statement. I appreciate that she cannot give a positive or conclusive answer about the ongoing GSOC investigation but the family have called for a public inquiry into the death of their son. The Minister will acknowledge that some of the vitriol and toxic messaging about George's death and the incidents around it, particularly on social media, has been absolutely horrible and horrifying for the family. Some of the stuff that has been said about that family is utterly reprehensible. It is terrible. The least the family deserve is a public inquiry into George's death. Whatever the conclusion of the GSOC investigation, that is the least they deserve.

I accept what the Deputy is saying but I want to be very clear that GSOC is the body that has been established to carry out these investigations. It has full powers and the authority to carry out a criminal investigation. It was set up to investigate issues such as this.

The Deputy may be interested to know that agreement has been reached so that local gardaí in Blanchardstown will be involved in the creation of a local diversity forum based on the Garda national diversity forum model. I very much welcome this development, which I understand will be the first local diversity forum to be established, and I hope it will help create closer connections between gardaí and the black Irish community in the Blanchardstown area. I have written to the Nkencho family to inform them that the forum is to be established.

I welcome that. To give an overview of the history of GSOC, many people have found the GSOC model and its findings to be unsatisfactory because it is essentially the police investigating the police in this circumstance and in other situations where lethal force was used by the police. There must be a public inquiry into this matter and there has to be accountability and transparency, not only for the Nkencho family, their supporters and friends, but for the community as a whole. What played out on that day was absolutely unacceptable. There must be an inquiry into the incident that happened at the end of December.

The Deputy mentioned that the Nkencho family had been abused, which is disgraceful and should not be happening. Regarding GSOC's powers, it is a statutorily independent body, which was established to investigate matters such as this. It can also make wider systematic recommendations on issues it investigates. In fact, a GSOC investigation constitutes a much more powerful and intrusive investigation than any other form of statutory inquiry. In this context, the most appropriate course of action is to await the outcome of GSOC's investigation, as the appropriate body established to investigate such incidents. Should there be any outstanding issues at the conclusion of this process, I will consider any other actions that may be appropriate at that time.

The next question is in the name of Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan but he is tied up with a committee vote.

Question No. 117 replied to with Written Answers.